There are many problematic issues in Jessica Burlew’s case.
Trying juveniles as adults
From the Equal Justice Initiative: “Some 10,000 children are housed in adult jails and prisons on any given day in America. Children are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted in adult prisons than in juvenile facilities and face increased risk of suicide. EJI believes confinement of children with adults in jails and prisons is indefensible, cruel, and unusual, and it should be banned. For children with parole-eligible sentences, unique release and re-entry challenges too often create insurmountable obstacles to parole and successful re-entry. Young people who have been in prison since they were adolescents need help learning basic life skills.”
From a PBS study on the differences between the juvenile and adult legal systems: “The juvenile justice system follows a psychological casework approach, taking into account a detailed assessment of the youth’s history in order to meet his or her specific needs. The juvenile offender faces a hearing, rather than a trial, which incorporates his social history as well as legal factors.”
From the same PBS study, about the very recent trend of trying juveniles as adults: “In the mid-1970s, as the media began to highlight rising violent crime rates, the American public demanded the conservative “get tough” approach to crime still widely endorsed today. State legislatures reacted to the public’s demands for accountability by passing more punitive juvenile justice laws. The conservative trend continued in the 1990s: almost every state passed laws making it easier to try juveniles in adult criminal courts; 31 states passed laws expanding sentencing options; 47 states modified confidentiality provisions for juvenile courts; and 22 states passed laws increasing the victim’s role in juvenile court processing. More than any time in recent history, the system is turning back toward treating juvenile offenders like adults.”
Juveniles in solitary confinement
From the senior staff counsel with the National Prison Project at the ACLU: “While in solitary, youth are alone in a cell for more than 22 hours a day with limited access to exercise, reading and writing materials, contact with family members, educational programming, drug treatment or mental health services. Although solitary confinement is well known to harm even previously healthy adults, for children, who have special developmental needs, the damage is even greater. Young people’s brains are still developing, placing them at a higher risk of psychological harm when subjected to isolation and sensory deprivation. Indeed, the vast majority of youth suicides in detention occur in isolation.”
From the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange: “It’s like if you put a grasshopper in a cup and then you place a top on it and it keeps on jumping and it keeps on jumping and it keep on hitting the top, keep on hitting the top, so when you take the top off, the grasshopper not going to jump out the top of the cup because it’s going to be so used to hitting the top of the cup, and it’s like that’s how it is. Sometimes it feels like I’m in jail when I’m not in jail.”
Statement by the American Academy of Child & Adult Psychiatry: “The United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty establish minimum standards for the protection of juveniles in correctional facilities… The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry concurs with the UN position and opposes the use of solitary confinement in correctional facilities for juveniles. In addition, any youth that is confined for more than 24 hours must be evaluated by a mental health professional, such as a child and adolescent psychiatrist when one is available.”
Criminalizing victims of sexual assault
From Wider Opportunities for Women, regarding criminalizing sexual assault survivors: “While incarcerated, the trauma survivors suffer is exacerbated. Women are at a higher risk than men of being sexually assaulted in prison, either by staff members or fellow inmates. The additional mental and physical health needs caused by these victimizations create even more barriers to stability and self-sufficiency once they are released. For example, the rate of sexual assault survivors with PTSD is likely much higher than the data show as many survivors live undiagnosed. Impacting their long-term quality of life and economic security, PSTD further limits survivors’ ability to finish school and maintain a job.”
From Free Marissa Now: “Violence perpetrated against women and girls can put them at risk for incarceration because their survival strategies are routinely criminalized. From being coerced into criminal activity by their abusers to fighting back to defend their lives or their children’s lives, survivors of domestic violence can find themselves trapped between the danger of sometimes life-threatening violence and the risk of spending the rest of their lives in prison.
- 85-90% of women in prison have a history of being victims of violence prior to their incarceration, including domestic violence, sexual violence, and child abuse.
- A study of women incarcerated in New York’s Rikers Island found that most of the domestic violence survivors interviewed reported engaging in illegal activity in response to experiences of abuse, the threat of violence, or coercion by a male partner.
- Another study found that, of 525 abused women at a mental health center who had committed at least one crime, nearly half had been coerced into committing crimes by their batterers as “part of a structural sequence of actions in a climate of terror and diminished, violated sense of self.”
- Rita Smith, the executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence asserts that, “Most battered women who kill in self-defense end up in prison. There is a well-documented bias against women [in these cases].”
Incarceration of persons with mental illness
From Health Affairs’ report on mental illness in prison: “In developing effective care and management strategies, we need a paradigm shift that conceptualizes mental illness in jail and prison environments as a public safety/public health issue. The rationale is that individuals with mental illnesses are more likely to be arrested, convicted, and move through a relentlessly revolving door between incarceration and the community.”
From Al Jazeera report on mental illness in America: “The lack of treatment for seriously ill inmates is inhumane and should not be allowed in a civilized society,” Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center and lead author of the study, said Tuesday in a statement. In 2012, there were an estimated 356,268 inmates with severe mental illnesses in U.S. prisons and jails. There were only 35,000 mentally ill individuals in state psychiatric hospitals.”
The National Alliance on Mental Health statement against imprisoning the mentally ill: “NAMI believes that persons who have committed offenses due to states of mind or behavior caused by a brain disorder require treatment, not punishment. NAMI believes that a prison or jail is never an optimal therapeutic setting. NAMI believes that mental health systems have an obligation to develop and implement systems of appropriate care for individuals whose untreated brain disorders may cause them to engage in inappropriate or criminal behaviors.”